To understand that many people doing many different types of work are involved with space travel.
This lesson makes use of a book called Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). This book was one of the winners of the 2007 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. In this lesson, students will first read Team Moon and then divide into teams to further investigate one of the challenges of the Apollo 11 mission.
In Team Moon, Catherine Thimmesh tells the story of the people who worked behind the scenes of the Apollo missions. Each chapter sets forth one major challenge faced by selected engineers, seamstresses, satellite operators, and others of the Apollo 11 mission team and how it was met.
As students begin to think about their own possible occupations, the book will introduce them to the range of careers that involve technology and science, including engineering, communications, computer science, and industrial design. For example, while only a select few will ever become astronauts, there are still thousands of exciting behind-the-scenes careers relating to space travel.
More and more, citizens are called on to decide which technologies to develop, which to use, and how to use them. Part of being prepared for that responsibility is knowing about how technology works, including its alternatives, benefits, risks, and limitations. The long-term interests of society are best served when key issues concerning proposals to introduce or curtail technology are addressed before final decisions are made. Students should learn how to ask important questions about the immediate and long-range impacts that technological innovations and the elimination of existing technologies are likely to have. Schooling should help students learn how to think critically about technology issues, not what to think about them.
Understanding the potential impact of technology may be critical to civilization. Technology is not innately good, bad, or neutral. Typically, its effects are complex, hard to estimate accurately, and likely to have different values for different people at different times. Its effects depend upon human decisions about development and use. Human experience with technology, including the invention of processes and tools, shows that people have some control over their destiny. They can tackle problems by searching for better ways to do things, inventing solutions, and taking risks.
Case studies of actual technologies provide an excellent way for students to discuss risk. Because of the risk and uncertainty inherent in space travel, this is a good lesson for introducing students to the concepts of over design and redundancy.
Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.5 Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to an understanding of the topic.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.6 Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text.
One way to get students interested in the Apollo projects is to show them all or parts of the movie Apollo 13. The film not only provides a good feel for the whole project, but also illuminates how the scientists, engineers, and astronauts all collaborated to solve a series of life-threatening problems "on the fly." Or, students could use their Team Moon student esheet to go to Apollo 13: Mission and Movie to watch a 30-minute talk with Tom Hanks, Gene Krantz, and Jim Lovell (the Apollo 13 astronaut portrayed by Tom Hanks) and a few short film clips.
You could also put the Apollo project into a historical context, especially with regard to the competition with the Soviet Union in the 1960s. For information on the space race, students could visit The Soviet Race to the Moon on the Centennial of Flight site. As stated on the website, "The mission capped off a decade-long ‘space race’ during which the United States, responding to early Soviet successes in space, had invested billions of dollars to outrun its main rival." Students could use this historical context to discuss the paradox that war often brings rapid and sometimes beneficial technological development. There is a series of NASA History videos on YouTube students could also view, starting with Mercury thru Apollo NASA History Part 1.
The very real danger of the Apollo missions could be dramatized by discussion of the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts. Many websites describe that event, and several have interesting discussions of how the capsule was redesigned after the tragedy. (See, for example, Apollo 1’s tale retold: ‘Fire in the cockpit!’, The Tragedy of Apollo 1, and Apollo 1.)
You should then move on to the Apollo 11 mission described in Team Moon. Before students read this book, take a few minutes to gauge student knowledge about the mission by having a class discussion about the Apollo 11 Mission by asking them the following questions (students will also answer these questions for Assessment). You can see answers to these questions on the Team Moon teacher sheet.
- Do you know when the first astronauts walked on the moon?
- What are their names?
- Who else was on the mission?
- What do you think it took to get people to the moon and back?
- What fields of science and technology do you think were necessary to make the Apollo mission work?
- What types of professionals do you think were required to make the mission a reality?
- What other projects might require the efforts of many people working together?
- How do you think the technology of the late 1960s was different than today?
- What do you think were some of the risks involved in the mission?
- What scientific knowledge was gained by traveling to the moon? (See One Great Leap for Mankind.)
- What do you consider are some benefits and risks of space technology?
- The U.S. made an enormous and expensive effort to put people on the moon. Do you think this effort paid off for the society as a whole, or could all this money and ingenuity have been used in ways that would have benefited more people?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of massive team projects like Apollo, as compared to the work of lone creative individuals, like Einstein at his desk in the Swiss patent office?
- How successful do you think the Apollo team was in imagining all the things that could go wrong and preparing for them? What possible problems, if any, did they miss?
Before or after the discussion, students could read or listen to a short interview with Buzz Aldrin.
Students should use their esheet to go to and listen to the podcast interview with Team Moon author Catherine Thimmesh. After listening to the interview, lead students in a brief discussion using these questions:
- What did the author want to achieve with her book?
- (She wanted to write a thrilling, suspenseful story even though the outcome is already known.)
- How did she organize the book?
- (She organized it with a series of challenges, rather than the typical chapters that might be found in a textbook.)
- What were some challenges the author faced?
- (Answers will vary, but may include: The overwhelming amount of details available about the mission; her feelings of insecurity because she is not a scientist, but was interviewing “rocket scientists.”)
- How did she research the book?
- (She used NASA archives, oral histories, all the Apollo material that was published, and personal interviews.)
- What understanding does she want her audience to come to after reading Team Moon?
- (She wants her audience to understand how involved the Apollo 11 mission was, how crucial everyone’s job was for the mission’s success, and that the jobs involved for the mission were incredibly difficult but also fun.)
Before students go on to read the book, you can suggest that they first look at the SB&F Book Club Guide: Team Moon. This guide provides information on what the book is about, the author, reasons why they should read it, and questions to think about as they read it. You can either direct students to go to the guide online or you can provide them with print-outs of the two-page guide.
Next, have the students read Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh and discuss the questions found on the Team Moon student sheet in class (you can find answers to these questions on the Team Moon teacher sheet).
You should then divide the class into eight groups and assign one of the eight challenges faced by one of the behind-the-scenes members of the Apollo 11 mission to each group. The student esheet lists numerous websites found in the Additional Sources Consulted section of Team Moon. The oral histories are especially compelling and give excellent insight into the people involved in the mission. They may, however, be too lengthy for some students. In that case, there are additional websites listed on the esheet.
Students should answer the questions found on the Apollo 11 student sheet and then present their findings to the class.
Have students discuss again the questions in the Motivation section. This time, however, after reading the book and completing their projects, their answers should be more detailed and complete. They should have a better idea of all the work that goes into a space mission, the types of space-related careers that are available to them, the numerous people involved in missions, and the costs and benefits of space travel.
You might also have students organize and apply their new knowledge by writing a short essay in response to an open-ended question. For example, “What are some of the risks and benefits of new technology? What are some of the ways that information gained during the Apollo mission could advance scientific knowledge overall? Do you think the knowledge gained from this mission was important for humanity, or would you have spent the money paid for this project differently?”
You can extend the ideas in this lesson by leading students through these other Science NetLinks lessons:
- Make a Mission helps students explore the purpose and constraints of technology by preparing a spacecraft for a mission to Mercury.
- Exploring the Solar System introduces students to earth's moon and the eight other planets in our solar system.
To exercise their imaginations and engage in active problem solving, students could plan a mission to the nearest star. The problems of this kind of mission would be significantly different than the moon missions, and would enable you to bring in such concepts as the stupendous scale of the universe, relativity theory, and the social and psychological difficulties of space voyages that would take many years and might require transplanting whole communities.
The Discussion Guide that is included with Team Moon also has a number of good extensions, including having students interview people who watched the moon landing on television to create an oral history, dividing the class into teams to find ways to make the best use of $1,000, and having students research the NASA website to discover what is going on at NASA today.